Today’s playlist was actually posted about one year ago on this website, before the Fred FM playlists had become a regular feature. At that time, Autumn had already given way to Winter, and that most freeing of seasons was only a memory. This year, Autumn once again hit me like a big therapeutic whack in the head and heart, jolting me from the physical and emotional coma that I enter once the Alabama humidity – that unwelcome guest – settles in for its exagerratedly long visit. What I wrote in December of 2009 is true again this year:
I’ve lived in three vastly different geographic areas in my life, each of their shortcomings almost completely redeemed by meteorologic characteristics. In Boston, though I loved the snowy, frigid winters, the coming of Spring was like a physical awakening each year, as I traded my subway passcard for a bicycle that would take me to work along the blooming Charles River, or just into the Squares of Cambridge for a coffee or a movie. Southern California has few shortcomings, really, but my rare grievances with the place – such as the seemingly endless sprawl – are erased by the year-round spectacular mildness of the weather. In the American South, I’ve become sadly accustomed to three months of indoor, air-conditioned living. And, like the emergence of the Bostonian from the stranglehold of Winter into the freedom of Spring, I emerge from my cool Alabama refuge (read: house) to a crisp, outdoor wonderland of dying leaves, mulch piles, harvest holidays and, again, bike riding.
In this state, and of all the seasons it’s shown me, I truly love Autumn the most. Despite all the dying leaves and musty piles of mulch.
If I were to make playlists for the seasons of California, each would likely sound like the others: sunny, bouncy, relatively happy. A playlist for Spring in the Boston/Cambridge area would be peppered with references to new life, greenery, and things that glide (sculls on the river, bikes along the shore). A playlist themed around Autumn in Alabama – much like a similar playlist for Autumn in Massachusetts – would be about serenity, changes (in the sports seasons, the weather and colors in nature), a new academic year, my favorite holiday (Thanksgiving), contemplation, and an awareness of the temporal state in which we exist.
The Autumn playlist I put together this year has a purposeful musical shimmer to it, a nod to the delicacy of the natural world here which, to me, is the constant thread through all of these songs – more important than any specific lyrics, melodies or artists. You can hear that “shimmeriness” most strongly in Calexico’s “Two Silver Trees,” Daniel Lanois’ instrumental “In Crystal,” and in the otherworldly organ and background vocals in Bamboo’s “Girl of the Seasons,” but if you listen for it in any of these songs, you’ll surely hear it. And there is a loose narrative thread in this playlist, as well, if you’re looking for it.
It is now December, we’ve already had snowfall in Birmingham, and the winter solstice is but two weeks away. I’m hanging on to my shimmering, jangly favorite Southern season by spinning this playlist on a CD in my truck every day.
So, before Autumn escapes us once more…
- American Football “The Summer Ends” (1999)
- Volebeats “September Spell” (2005)
- Whiskeytown “Empty Baseball Park” (1995)
- Neil Young “Dreamin’ Man” (1992)
- Nick Drake “Cello Song” (1969)
- Bamboo “Girl of the Seasons” (1968)
- My Morning Jacket “Golden” (2003)
- Ryan Adams “Halloween” (2000)
- Norah Jones “Carnival Town” (2004)
- Ana Egge “Apple Tree” (2004)
- Cat Power “Wild is the Wind” (2000)
- The Handsome Family “The Winding Corn Maze” (2009)
- Billie Holiday “Gone with the Wind” (1955)
- Calexico “Two Silver Trees” (2008)
- Great Lake Swimmers “I Am Part of a Large Family” (2007)
- Ray Davies “Thanksgiving Day” (2005)
- Josh Ritter “You’ve Got the Moon” [acoustic] (2008)
- The Bees (aka The Silver Seas) “Sea of Stars” (2004)
- Graham Nash “Sleep Song” (1971)
- Daniel Lanois “In Crystal” (2008)
Approximate playing time: 80 minutes.